We go from the Ottoman era to the 2nd century when Hadrian founded a Roman city in the heart of Thrace west of Constantinople and no surprise then when he named it Hadrianopolis. Shortened later to Adrianople, it was only after the Turks conquered the area that it became Edirne. As the Ottomans slowly lost their grip on most of their conquests, the city became a border town with Bulgaria and Greece.
As one travels to this antique city, there are reminders of even earlier inhabitants. These are the many tumuli that can be seen from the road, the symmetrical hills in the distance that look out of place in the undulating sunflower and wheat fields. Thousands of dolmen dot the landscape but go unnoticed for their small size blends in with the terrain. Dolmen are very ancient tombs of natural stone usually consisting of two side pieces topped by a third. With the number of people that found this area so pleasant, it is no wonder the Ottomans felt the same.
They had a difficult time overcoming the defensive walls of Constantinople as did many others before them. By the late fourteenth century the Ottoman armies bypassed the Byzantines and headed west ending up with the prize, Edirne, as their new capital. Many campaigns began here as they added new territory from Europe and Africa to their growing empire. With added wealth from their new acquisitions, they contributed to the architecture of the city and today many fine examples remain.
Some of these buildings are of interest to the Sinan enthusiast for the mini history lesson to be gleaned from them. The Eski Camii is an excellent starting point since it was finished in 1414. To the southwest and in view of the Selimiye, is this smaller version of the Ulu Camii of 1396, or Grand Mosque found in the old capital, Bursa. Here there are nine domes supported by massive piers while at Bursa the larger mosque hosts twenty domes. Along its axis through the mihrab the third dome from the kibla wall was open with only a wire screen to keep out the birds. Below was a fountain. It has been suggested that Sinan was influenced by this arrangement when he placed a fountain inside the Selimiye. Although the Eski Camii is without an inner fountain, standing in the mosque one can imagine the sound of the water with light flooding in from above. Its absense does not diminish the impressiveness of this building, and the calligraphy and other detailing are on a par with the Ulu Mosque at Bursa.
A short fifteen minute walk on the north road fronting the Selimiye takes the visitor to the Muradiye Camii of 1436. Go at prayer time to insure its being open, but if not the views of the Selimiye are worth the visit. A small “T” shape mosque recently repaired, its main attraction, besides the antique painting on some walls, is the blue on white tiles that surround the prayer hall. Strongly influenced by the Chinese, these ceramics do not have the polychrome one thinks of coming from Iznik. Those colorful tiles would be developed in the sixteenth century contributing to the detailing in Sinan’s work, but the varied designs in cobalt blue of the Muradiye are extraordinary.
Finished in 1447, the Uc Serefeli Mosque cannot be missed given its four distinctive minarets. Its hexagonal plan supported the largest dome to date, an advance in Ottoman architecture. Considered to be one of the most influencial buildings on his designs, Sinan did six hexagonal plans. The Sinan Pasa Mosque of 1558 at Besiktas is a small version of the Uc Serefeli but with the piers diminished while later in 1576, the Sokollu Mehmed Pasa Camii in Kadirga shows the innovative talent of the architect when he reduces them almost to a mere detail.
In 1488 the architect Hayrettin built for Suleyman’s grandfather Beyazit a Kulliye across the Tunca River to the northwest of the Eski Camii. The medical complex has been restored and the wonderful displays make an inviting museum. However, its hexagonal room should be noted because the beauty of this building can only inspire any architect. Sinan’s medrese built in 1550 for Rustem Pasa in Istanbul, although an octagon, captures the same magic. A walk of a mile or so, no one complains because it is a wonderful adventure especially when one knows what awaits.